You're hearing it more and more: There's a higher-education bubble. Remember bubbles? They're those things that pop and cause catastrophes. In 2008, the housing finance bubble popped and we're still dealing with the effects. Personally, I think the 4th straight year of economic molasses has a lot to do with long-run trends in technology and the negative effect of the internet on aggregate demand. People who spend all day surfing and tweeting and playing just don't buy as much stuff. They're certainly exposed to a lot less advertising. But still, even when long-run trends are downward, the economy tends to contract via bubble-pops, not smooth decline.
Why is the university system in the US about to pop? I first thought about this future back in about 2000 when I was working at a Cal State school. The tone of the place was entirely vocational. There was no student life. No spirit. No mentoring. Nothing that I would associate with higher education. It was a group - albeit a large and at times hard-working group - of young people seeking a certificate by the easiest possible means. A university in name only. Naturally, the thought occured that the whole thing could be done online at a fraction of the cost. And that someone out there would do that. And when they did, the Cal States of the world would go under.
Apparently these days are upon us. I've heard that 3,000 US colleges and universities will fold within the next 10 years. This gloomy forecast comes from the people who sell grotesquely overpriced textbooks to these schools. What a small lifeless campus can do, Phoenix University Online can do better. Thus, good-bye Direction-State University; good-bye Dead-Guy's-Name College.
Moreover, a good chunk of a big university's money comes from cash cow courses (the 1100 students in Economics 101), and these are easily done online as well. Revenues at big university will contract dramatically. There will be cutting; there will be blood on the tile. All those hyphenated departments, majors, and programs, created only to satisfy political demands or the power-lust of big-name professors, will go away.
The contraction in higher ed has distinct consequences for young people hoping for an academic career. If your advisors are telling you to ignore all this, follow your passion, and everything will be fine, my advice is: Find new advisors. Everything is *not* going to be fine.